The Shoals lost a great gardener this week. Mr. Leon Perry passed away on Sunday, February 12th at the age of 89. I first met him many years ago when his garden was on the Shoals garden tour. Later, I contacted him about writing an article for Alabama Gardener magazine. Mr. Perry loved showing off his prized azaleas and rhododendrons. Any time we had company during the azalea season, I would hustle them over to see Mr. Perry's wonderland. No matter what size the party was, he would spent hours with us, regaling us with stories about he started a rhododendron the size of a Volkswagen from a small cutting.
And not just one Volkswagen sized rhododendron. His entire garden was filled with gigantic azaleas and rhododendrons, walls of blazing color that dizzied the senses. It is common to see such large specimens in the mountains of North Carolina, the very spot where they first impressed Mr. Perry on a business trip he took about 40 years ago. Growing them in Alabama that size is not easily accomplished. Mr. Perry was undeterred however and he went home (Iuka, Mississippi at the time) and bought as many rhododendrons as he could find and set out creating a spectacular garden.
In 1981, he moved to Muscle Shoals, Alabama with a truckload of cuttings and started all over again on a wooded hillside overlooking the Tennessee River. With the help of his wife, Dean, they created a spectacular oasis that includes not only azaleas and rhododendrons but also native plants, wildflowers, camellias, and man-made streams. A true woodland paradise.
Mr. Perry inspired many Shoals area gardeners and I know he will be truly missed.